Tiahuanaco (Tiwanaku)


Location: La Paz Department      Map


Description of Tiahuanaco Archaeological Site

Tiahuanaco or Tiwanaku is an ancient archaeological city, capital of the State of Tiahuanacota, located 21 kilometers southeast of Lake Titicaca in the department of La Paz in western Bolivia.

Tiahuanaco was the center of the Tiahuanaco civilization, a pre-Inca culture that based its economy on agriculture, livestock and architecture, and which covered the territories of the Collao plateau, between western Bolivia, southwestern Peru, northern Argentina and the north of Chile, regions from which it radiated its technological and religious influence towards other civilizations contemporary to it.

The city of Tiahuanaco is characterized by its architecture decorated with reliefs and incised plans placed on stelae; It is made up of seven important architectural constructions: Kalasasaya, semi-subterranean temple, Akapana pyramid, Puerta del Sol, Puma Punku and temple, also great pyramids and sculptures.

Material testimony of an important pre-Inca culture, the Tiahuanaco culture had a port on Lake Titicaca, although it is now 15 km away from it. The magnificence of its culture is expressed in its excellent ceramic work, with the famous queros (ceremonial vessels), the huaco-portraits (relief portrait of a human face on a vessel), as well as textiles and especially in architectural constructions. , many of which involve astronomical orientation.

This city reached its construction between the years 400 AD and collapsed around the year 900 or 1200 AD.

It is currently the venue for one of the most important ceremonies of the Aymara New Year, where official acts are also held, attended by the president, state vice president and other authorities.


Tiahuanaco is considered to be one of the longest-lived cultures in South America, lasting 25 centuries from 1500 B.C. C. until the year 1000 d. C. The pre-Hispanic city of Tiahuanaco was the capital of an Andean state that included the territory named as the Altiplano Plateau. This culture is characterized by having known bronze, which gave it a great technological and military advantage over the other cultures of America at that time; Proof of this is that bronze joints have been found in its constructions, utensils and weapons.

The capital of this empire is Tiahuanaco; It is located 70 kilometers northwest of the city of La Paz, by road, and at an altitude of 3,885 meters above sea level. 15 km from Lake Titicaca. According to Alan L. Kolata, an American archaeologist who conducted successive excavations at this site during the 1980s and early 1990s, around the year 1000, the city had a population of 115,000, along with another 250,000 in the surrounding countryside. For many, these figures are very high; it is said that it is more likely that the city at its height reached a population of twenty or thirty thousand people. This culture extended its physical domains to approximately 600,000 km².

The construction characteristics of the capital are unique and splendid, converging in it, planning architects, who with a singular drawing of simple lines designed lavish temples; the engineers calculated the slopes of the walls, and with an excellent urban planning technique they created surface and underground networks of canals to eliminate rainwater and sewage.

The stonemasons cut stones with excellent craftsmanship; the metallurgists made plates for the iconographic bas-reliefs, managing to cover the portals of monuments with golden metals, which sparkled in the sun. The sages oriented the temples astronomically with amazing precision. Crowds of men cut the stone in distant quarries and then transported it to the big city.

Tiahuanaco radiates culture, there the knowledge and mastery of science is concentrated and the fine arts are loved and protected. The influence of Tiahuanaco can be seen in monuments in southern Peru and northern Chile. The stamp of this culture is also found in ceramic or metal objects made by the communities of northern Argentina. This culture, considered the most important of the pre-Columbian period on the Collao plateau, achieved not only great advances in science and art, but also created an exceptional cultivation technique on ridges for flat lands and on platforms (or terraces) for the hillside. Undoubtedly, it exerted a powerful influence on other cultures.

The Pucará culture developed in the northwestern sector of the Lake Titicaca basin, in Puno-Peru, and had as its center the site of Pucará, from which the name given to the pre-Hispanic culture derives, which, according to specialists in the region (Tantaleán , etc.) had two phases of development within the so-called Formative period: Middle Formative (1400 to 550 BC), and Late Formative (550 BC to 400 AD). They developed, especially in the second phase, a very particular vigorous sculpture and pottery (the latter has excellent firing, great surface finish, and beautiful shapes and decorations), above all for religious purposes as can be seen.

During the period known as the Late Formative, Pucará – a social formation in the northern basin of Titicaca – produced qualitatively and quantitatively important stone statuary. It has always been said that when the Incas arrived at Tiahuanaco, already in ruins by then, they were amazed and took it as a sacred place. It seems that a similar thing happened centuries before when it was the Tiwanakotas who possibly marveled at Pucará. Therefore, once the Pucará settlements were occupied by people from Tiwanaku, it is likely that the leaders of this social formation would have taken the Pucará site as a sacred place, and perhaps even assumed it as their paqarina or place of origin, as a imaginary. They copied its architectural model and moved it to their capital in the Tiwanaku Valley, in the southern basin. It is possible that at that time, the Pucará sculptures had become objects of great religious and ritual value, their possession being a symbol of power and prestige.


This massive transfer of sculptures from the northern basin of the lake, to the state capital of Tiahuanaco, must be understood –therefore– as a great State Project promoted by the ruling elites and executed by human contingents led by the wise men of the time who they might as well be called engineers. It should be added that not only the sculptures of Pucará were the object of veneration and appetite during the classic era of Tiwanaku. So were sculptures from the Middle Formative that have been found among its ruins. The clearest and best documented case refers to the so-called “bearded monolith” or stela 15 that in the excavations that Bennett carried out in the semi-subterranean temple in 1932, appeared next to the giant monolith called precisely “Bennett” or stela 10.

The collection of Pucará sculptures in Tiahuanaco must come from different settlements in the Pucará sphere, from a time before the development of Tiwanaku.11 Centuries later Tiwanaku, it seems, also incorporated into their worship, and for the maintenance of its hegemony, strategies similar to those of Pucará. A notable example of this would be the so-called "chachapumas", apparently priests with their faces covered by a feline mask who sacrificed individuals by cutting off their heads. A singular sculptural style of this culture serves us today as a witness of that.

Stylistic development
Until now, according to the excavations carried out by the National Directorate of Archeology and Anthropology of Bolivia, the division of the Tiahuanaco culture into 3 phases has been established: Villager (Epochs I and II; 1500 BC - 45 AD). C.), Urban (Epoch III and IV; 45 AD - 700 AD) and Expansive (Epoch V; 700 AD - 1200 AD).

In the second century of our era Tiahuanaco ceased to be the concentrated village of the early times to become the great ceremonial city that has two dominant centers: the Akapana complex with the buildings that surround it and the Puma Punku located to the southwest of Akapana . Both show the double structure of Tiahuanaco, which demonstrates the vision of Andean society, a division that persists until the arrival of the Spanish and even after. All the Andean cities, including Cusco, are divided in two; Anan (those above) and Urin (those below).

In the eighth century of our era, Tiahuanaco expands on the basis of the pre-existing enclaves, both on the coast and in the mesothermal valleys; Likewise, it extends its power over the highlands and the mountains. This expansion was possible thanks to the mastery of bronze that allowed it great military superiority. The expansion is evidenced by the diffusion of Tiahunacota symbols and elements, which appears in ceramics and textiles throughout the conquered area. This expansion reaches the north of Chile (San Pedro de Atacama) and shows relationships with the Aguada culture of Argentina, leaving its mark in the valleys of Cochabamba and advancing north to the city of Huari, near Ayacucho; there own modalities. The city of Huari is a focus of Tiwanakoid expansion on the cultures of northern Peru. The city itself, with its great walls of cut stone, is different from Tiahuanaco, with the exception of the site of "Cheqo Wasi" whose chambers, made of large blocks, are reminiscent of the highland city. The same can be said of the interior strata, recently excavated, with polished ashlar walls of the Tiahunacota type.

The best known modalities of Huari ceramics are Robles Moko, with Tiahuanaco motifs, but with globular shapes, as well as Pacheco vessels with figures similar to the Puerta del Sol.

After the 8th century, a great pan-Andean empire was established that expanded towards the Pacific and north through Huari, an index of the Moche Nazca cultures, and to the south, through Tiahunaco, reaching the north of Chile and the north of Argentina.

In the twelfth century the collapse is inevitable and in the region where Tiahuanaco flourished Aymara lordships appear, called Colla kingdoms.

There are many investigations in which different times of this culture are established. Being so old it is difficult to establish exact years. Many researchers take this division into account while many do not consider this hypothesis valid since Tiahuanaco does not present different patterns in the reliefs or in its architecture, with the passage of time.

According to the Aymara legend, the name of Tiahuanaco appeared when the Inca Dose Capaca, the "sariri", being in the city, saw an emissary coming running. The Inca went to meet him and said "Tiai, wanaku" which translated is "Sit down, guanaco" transforming himself until establishing himself as the name known until today: Tiahuanaco. Other Castilian variations are Tiahuanaco (the most widespread), Tiahuanacu and Tihuanaco.



Although Tiahuanaco was founded in the year 1500 AD the great period of construction and expansion occurred from 45 BC This phase was created through kinship units, which as society reached a state level, caused the state to expand to create surpluses to support the administration and elites.

The capital of Tiahuanaco housed more than 40,000 inhabitants, having at least 4 small cities or towns that depended on it. These settlers ate potatoes and other tubers as well as llamas and foods that came from lower altitudes. In addition to livestock as the main activity, the use of alpaca stands out to produce high-quality wool in fabrics and clothing and the use of llamas as pack animals, which favored contact with allied settlements.

The influence of Tihuanaco expanded from the seventh century, thanks to various strategies such as verticality, or territorial organization based on ecological floors. Such an economic system of exchange of products and mobilization of people implied a political verticality, the direct control of agricultural activity and an economy based on the production and exchange of prestige goods linked to religious worship.

Most of the population lived in humble houses, the rural population lived scattered in the fields through houses built on mounds, while the aristocracy had their residences on platforms of majestic buildings. This ruling elite exercised its power and influence through alliances and colonization, promoting political ties and creating an imperial system from Tiahuanaco, which integrated various ethnic and linguistic groups, extending its power over large areas of the Andean zone for the first time.

This society was one of the most enduring Andean cultures, reaching as late as 1100 AD. about. It is estimated that the causes of the end of this civilization were a sum of factors. Before the fall of the Huari empire in the 10th century, Tiahuanaco also entered into decline, there was a serious political and social crisis, due to the bad harvests carried out by the droughts of Lake Titicaca. The rise in the level of Lake Titicaca, causing the disappearance of the huge cultivated areas worked in the swampy lands, the saline deposits that made irrigated agriculture difficult, which resulted in the simultaneous abandonment of the city and the interior areas that were never occupied again. In the 12th century, a bloody civil war, due to which the collapse was inevitable and the region of the Tiahuanaco empire was fragmented into Aymara regional states, among which the Colla kingdom, the Lupaca kingdom and the Pacajes kingdom stand out.


It constitutes the most important part of the Tiahuanacota culture and its main city. It extends over an area of ​​approximately 600 hectares. In this city the magnificence of what was its architecture is appreciated; the different artistic and technological expressions speak for themselves of their high degree of perfection. The great temples have the sky for a vault, the walls that enclose the sacred spaces are raised in "stake-board", the segments of ashlars are attached to gigantic pillars made with a single block of stone. Going to the construction of several stepped terraces, immense pyramids are built. All the temples of the city were oriented astronomically.

Impressive structures stand out: Kalasasaya, Semi-subterranean Templete, Kantatayita, Akapana Pyramid, Pumapunku, Kerikala, and Putuni. The Regional Museum of Archeology of Tiwanaku exhibits part of an important collection obtained from the same site, appreciating beautiful pieces of ceramics, lithics, metal, artifacts made of bone, human remains, etc. that were rescued through different scientific excavations in the area.

Semi-subterranean temple
This is one of the most complete architectural achievements of the splendor of Tiahuanaco. It is located more than two meters below the level of the surrounding area, with an almost quadrangular floor plan, it is made up of walls with 57 supporting pillars of red sandstone and ashlar blocks of the same material. These walls are adorned internally by 175 interlocked heads, mostly worked in limestone. All the heads are different from each other, showing features of various ethnic groups.

It should be noted, in this pavilion, the drainage system, made by means of channels made of stone, with a perfect slope of 2% that still works today, and that flow into a collector.

Embedded in the temple floor was the largest anthropomorphic piece, known as the Pachamama monolith or Benett monolith in honor of the American archaeologist who described it, later it was transferred to the city of La Paz to fix it in the square next to the Hernando Siles stadium. . It has now returned to be installed in a museum built especially so that tourists can appreciate it. This piece has a height of 7.3 m and an approximate weight of 20 tons.

Contrasting with the perfection of the set and details of the monolith, it is found in the Templete "Monolito Barbado" or "KonTiki Wiracocha" (Lord of the Waters, with beards, and dressed in a long skirt), sculpted in sandstone rock, accompanied by two other smaller stelae, all excavated on the same site.

Kantatallite (Dawn Light)
In this rectangular structure there is a lowered arch lintel —in hard gray andesite— which is one of the most extraordinary pieces in terms of its finishing details, presenting a frieze with refined iconographic work. Due to its characteristics, it is likely that this piece would have been covered by metallic gold plates, and that the conquerors caused the serious damage that is evident when they removed the golden coating. It is important to point out that this piece is proof of the use of curved details in Tiahuanaco architecture. Also on this site is a surprising piece, it is a "model" of one of the buildings in the city, made by Tiahuanaco architects in a huge block of stone where small steps and tiny patios are reproduced, which shows us the towering technological degree of this civilization.


Akapana Pyramid of Tiahuanaco (Tiwanaku)

Akapana Pyramid of Tiahuanaco (Tiwanaku)

Akapana Pyramid or Piramide de Akapana is the largest structure in Tiahuanaco (Tiwanaku). It stood at least 15 meters above plateau level. Some of the stones that make its base weight as much as 200 tons. How ancient people managed to construct this magnificent structure is still a mystery. Archaeologists still dig on the site. They managed to discover an underground subterranean temple. Additionally Akapana Pyramid of Tiahuanaco (Tiwanaku) served as a mausoleum. Archaeologists discovered a skeleton of  high chief who was buried with a sacrificial lama as well as gold jewellery, pottery and other artefacts.


All the temples of the city are oriented astronomically. Thus, in Kalasasaya (kala = stone; saya or sayasta = standing) or Temple of the Standing Stones, the changes of seasons and the solar year of 365 days were verified exactly. On both equinoxes (autumn: March 21 and spring: September 21) the sun rose through the center of the main entrance door, which is accessed by a magnificent staircase. At the winter solstice (June 21) it did so at the N.E. wall angle. and at the summer solstice (December 21) it was marked by the rise in the wall angle S.E. This wall is known as "balcony wall" or "chunchukala".

The Temple of the Standing Stones covers approximately two hectares and its structure is based on sandstone columns and cut ashlars, arranged among these, gargoyles or drainage drippers for rainwater stand out.

Inside you can see the remains of what would have been small semi-subterranean rooms arranged in such a way that seven were located on each side of the patio. In the enclosure there is a wall whose base is made of sandstone blocks that manages to close the east, north and south sectors, leaving on both sides a kind of atrium that separates the central or "ceremonial" enclosure. In this second wall, towards the north side, two blocks can be seen in which, in their upper third, a hole was made that imitates, to scale, a human hearing device, and through which noises or conversations can be heard. produced in remote places. These "sound amplifiers" allow us to deduce that acoustics were known and applied in the pre-Columbian world.

On the wall of the temple there is an "ear-ritual" probably based on religious festivities, very similar to the one existing in the Alberite Dolmen, Cádiz, 7000 years old AP19

In Kalasasaya there are three important sculptures: the Stela Ocho (Ponce), the El Fraile monolith and the Puerta del Sol. In the Ponce monolith fine iconographic engravings can be seen such as winged men, fish, puma or camelid heads, condors, eagles, staggered symbols; in the purest Tiahuanaco art. The "El Fraile" stela is not decorated, it is a piece carved in veined sandstone, showing an enigmatic character carrying a staff and a keru in his hands; It bears a ventral band where some relief traces of crabs can be seen.

Also called "Putuputuni" (in Aymara: Putuputuni 'place where there are holes'), it is also known as the "Palace of the Sarcophagi", it is believed that this place was the burial place of the high personalities from Tiahuanaco. rectangular plant, with a platform of 1.20 m. High. In the interior walls are funerary chambers with access to the central courtyard. The enclosure system in these chambers is notable, consisting of a sliding stone door that slides when the floor is moistened.

The entrance shows stepped recesses that end in a portico (today dismantled). In the western part of the platform and at a depth of about two meters there are main canals that were probably used to evacuate wastewater and that formed one of the most perfect sewage systems.

Pumapunku is an approximate area of ​​two hectares; it is a pyramidal structure based on three platforms made up of carved ashlars, the ground plan is rectangular with two fins that extend from north to south in its eastern sector.

This building was erected at the end of the classic period of Tiahuanaco, since the technique is much more refined and evolved than that of other constructions, highlighting the impeccable handling of the lithic material.

In the upper part of this monumental building, there is a small temple with its respective drainage channels. To the west, the remains of what was an access stairway can be seen. The main enclosure is located in the northwest sector, which still has the remains of a cyclopean structure probably made up of four rooms, each one of them with portals carved in andesite, similar to the Puerta del Sol.

In this ceremonial precinct, the presence of staples and arsenical copper rings stands out, used to join the construction elements, both in the system of drainage channels and in the reinforcement of the platforms. The floor surrounding the temple was made with a layer of clay colored with reddish ocher.

This colossal monument was the object of merciless looting from the time of the Incas, until the colony and the Republic.

Pokotia is located two kilometers from Tiahuanaco. In the 20th century, the enigmatic Monolith of Pokotia was found, which is now in the Museum of precious metals in La Paz.


Main monuments

Sun Gate
The Puerta del Sol is a monolithic sculpture in andesite stone that in the past was part of another larger structure, possibly linked to Kalasasaya or Akapana. This hypothesis is based on its design and structure, in addition to having holes and recesses that suggest that it fit into crossbars; all this added to the lateral entrabes make us suppose that this sculpture fit into some larger temple or construction.

The Puerta del Sol is 3 m high by 4 wide, and weighs approximately 10 tons.

In its decoration, the main figure of a character in high relief called "Lord of the staffs" stands out, around this there are 48 figures in low relief representing winged beings and kneeling men. The "trumpeters" also stand out below the winged beings; There are theories that claim that these trumpeters mark the solar movements, so the door of the sun would be a solar calendar.

Moon Gate
The Puerta de la Luna is a monument 2.23 meters high and 23 centimeters thick. It is a monolithic arch in andesite stone that presents reliefs in high and low relief. The motifs it presents are zoomorphic similar to those of the Puerta del Sol, but with the head of a puma and the mouth of a fish, and not the heads of birds as on the cover of the sun.

Apparently, the Puerta de la Luna was located at the entrance to the cemetery and was moved to its current location, on a rise near the Putuni.

It is oriented according to the cardinal points: thus, every solstices (December 21 and June 21) the Sun rises through the door or through one of its ends.

Monolith Ponce
The Ponce Monolith is a sculpture of a single block of andesite that represents a man in a vertical position and covered by abundant iconography in low relief. It owes its name to the Bolivian archaeologist Carlos Ponce Sanginés, who unearthed it and discovered that the monolith had a cross carved on its right shoulder, for which it is known that the sculpture was known by the Spanish colonizers in the 16th century, but left in the forgotten until its discovery in 1964.

The sculpture is found inside the Kalasasaya temple, it is anthropomorphic and represents a standing character; the sculpture stands out for the abundant iconography carved in bas-relief.

The structure is 3 meters high and the character was represented barefoot, in addition to wearing a short skirt with 5 bands, 4 of which are adorned with geometric figures. His eyes are square and his nose is "T" shaped, with ears carved in high relief. Tears flow from his eyes ending in a fish head. The character wears a hat from which ribbons fall that end in heads similar to the cover of the sun.

Bas-reliefs depicting feathers, condors and staggered figures stand out on his body, while he carries a scepter that ends on both sides with a fish head (the Puerta del Sol or Puerta del Luna).

Friar Monolith
The Friar monolith is a marbled sandstone sculpture that represents a standing character carrying a staff and a k'ero, for this reason it was called a friar.

The sculpture is 3 meters high and the character stands out for having a bulging belly, a rectangular face, square eyes, a headband and a belt with plants. Like the Ponce monolith, it also has tears.

The degree of degradation of the sculpture is notorious, so much of its iconography is in danger due to the climate of the region.

Bennett Monolith
The Bennett Monolith, also known as Stela or Pachamama Monolith or Stela 10, is the largest monument that has been found within the Monumental Archaeological Complex of Tiahuanaco, and was found inside the underground Temple. It measures 7.30 meters high by 1.20 wide. It is carved from a single block weighing 18.5 tons.


Cultural heritage of Humanity
In 1999, the Bolivian government applied for Tiwanaku to be declared by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) as a Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

The arguments of the Vice Ministry of Culture of Bolivia were the following:
It is the symbol of Bolivian nationality: Bolivia is the heir to this empire.
It is important in South America: for approximately 3000 years, it was of great importance in the cultural development of the territories of Peru, Chile, Argentina and Bolivia.
It has worldwide importance: researchers from all over the world discover important characteristics of the Tiwanaku culture and society, with great global influence.
It has tourist importance: it is a great attraction for Bolivia and the continent.
Contribution to humanity: one of his greatest contributions was "the potato" and his system of agriculture in ridges.
Current state of conservation: given its importance, its preservation and conservation is urgent.
Comparison with other sites: such as Teotihuacán.
Tiwanaku Authenticity: Its authenticity is unique.
Because Bolivian society asks for it: Tiwanaku is a living testimony of the ancient origin of the Aymara Nation.

On December 2, 2000, UNESCO inscribed the name "Tiwanaku: spiritual and political center of the Tiwanaku culture" on the list of Cultural Heritage of Humanity, "due to the exceptional archaeological and cultural value of the stone ruins of the city ​​of Tiwanaku, from where a human group contributed decisively in the research and development of construction technologies, agriculture, cattle raising, weaving of vegetable and animal fibers".

In 2019, the Bolivian Ministry of Culture presented to UNESCO a Comprehensive Plan for the Preservation and Conservation of the archaeological and lithic assets of the Tiahuanaco complex with the aim of controlling, minimizing damage, reversing effects and prolonging the life expectancy of the structures. patrimonial